When Thomas Aiken took to the Jaypee Greens golf course on Saturday,he was lurking in the top-20,four shots off the lead. The thought of chasing the leader was the farthest on his mind. But then something changed. The South African opened the third round with a birdie and an eagle. Even when he was 3-under after two holes,it had not occurred to him the day would pan out the way it did. He told himself ‘2,500 times’ not to think ahead and it worked like a charm,resulting in a round of 10-under that handed him the lead going into the final round of the (euro) 1.5 million Avantha Masters.
“My approach shots were good and then I converted everything. The little stick behaved today for a change,” Aiken said of his putter after his tournament total of 18-under 198. Though his fancy blue-black wrist tape irked him a bit while using the putter,Aiken doesn’t mind the tendonitis in his thumb because it means a daily massage and strapping by his physio wife Kate,who is accompanying him here this week.
“She wasn’t there when I won last year so I want to do it for her tomorrow,” the 29-year-old says. Born in a family of sportspersons – his mother was a tennis player and sports teacher,father a provincial level sprinter,uncle a rugby player – only Aiken,who is 63rd on the European Tour order of merit,managed to take sporting success to a professional level.
After proving to be ‘good’ everything from tennis to swimming to athletics to rugby and cricket,Aiken chose golf because he loved the scenic beauty around a course. Having been a ‘mean’ fast bowler as a 15-year-old,who recorded 130kmph on the speed gun,his only connection to the sport now is giving golfing tips to good friends Shaun Pollock and Jonty Rhodes.
The only Indian who can have a shot at the trophy,that too only if he shoots a spectacular round,is Gaganjeet Bhullar,who shot a 5-under on Saturday to be tied 8th. However,given Bhullar’s rusty form at the starting of the season,such a charge is quite unlikely. Following his fairway to green routine,Aiken could just pull that off.
LEADERBOARD: 198 T Aiken (RSA),201 L Wen-chong (CHN),202 D Drysdale (SCO),K Aphibarnrat (THA),203 J Granberg (FIN),S Hend (AUS),T Fleetwood (ENG),204 C Nirat (THA),J Quesne (FRA),G Bhullar (IND),J Makitalo (FIN)